Wilier Imperiale Chorus
Italian bike company Wilier have been making bikes for over 100 years - certainly steeped in tradition you could say! You have to respect Wilier as well for speccing Campagnolo groupsets across the range, either Fulcrum or Miche wheels and a variety of other Italian parts where possible. You feel like your getting a proper italian road bike even if you plump for the entry level Escape. Here we take a look at the range-topping, eye-wateringly pricey Imperiale. And despite it's full collection of Italian kit, it's a carbon-aero joy ride and a far cry from the Italian days of old.
The Imperiale is described as a road race bike with aero/TT influences and is designed by aerodynamicist John Cobb. On first glance it's 'obviously' carbon fibre from with every shaping technique under the sun on display. The head tube is chunky but smooth and sculptured, merging into an arched top tube. The down tube is one of the strong, defining features of the frame with its kind of fin type shape reaching down to the wheel. The claim is that it helps funnel turbulent airflow off the front wheel back onto the aerodynamics of the frame. Another distinctive feature is the huge seat tube, top tube and seat stay junction where the seat stays flow up and sculpt around the top tube. Finally the the frame features an integrated aero seat mast.
Down below the frame features a massive bottom bracket area with press fit bearings and chunky chain stays dwarf the skinnier seat stays; the chain stays flaring in size as they approach the axle area. The front of the frame gets an aero, full-carbon fork. You also get the standard issue twin bottle cage mounts and it probably goes without saying, there are no rack or guard mounts.
The Wilier looks a class act whether you like the looks or not...
The Imperiale is a marmite bike visually. Feedback was literally love it or hate it although the haters tended to be steel riding retro grouches with the more modernist carbon-biked riders loving it! The finish is good and the Wilier looks a class act whether you like the looks or not. It's suitably loud for a top end race bike but the colour scheme goes someway to toning down its wild looks. The decals are smart although we could have done without the "Wind Friendly" one on the top tube.
Before you can get on the Wilier you need to get fitted. An integrated seat mast is always a controversial decision as it limits resale potential and makes travelling with the bike that little bit more painful. There's also the fact that if you cut the length wrong, it's bye-bye bike and hoping you can find a buyer who's a fraction shorter than you. Wilier has given you some leeway though, the seat clamp that sits over the cut seat mast is quite deep and gives a good 10-15mm of room to play with on saddle height. Our bike had already been cut and it just so happened to fit a handful of us well enough so we didn't have the stress of getting it cut ourselves.
When you're finally fitted and ready to go, climbing aboard the Wilier gives a less committed and not overly aggressive seating position which you'd expect from a £4k+ race bike. It's oddly comfortable, pedestrian almost, more sportive than elite racer.
Power delivery is extremely direct...
As you peel away, the 16lb weight makes itself known. It's not a headline-grabbing figure considering the price but it's only just over the UCI minimum. And it's when you stamp on the pedals that you realise it's more than just weight you need to think about. Power delivery is extremely direct and several crank turns quickly have you up to cruising speed with little effort.
Given its obvious aero intentions, it's surprisingly in the climbs that the Wilier really wins you over. Again, weight is important and you'll find lighter bikes for the price, but the ability to attack is equally important and the Wilier just feels rock solid. You almost have to moderate your efforts as it's all too easy to take all that performance on offer and blow yourself out in the first climb before you've even realised you're overdoing it.
The Imperiale is a real weapon on the descents too...
Despite its stiffness under power, it's no bone shaker though. The carbon frame dampens all buzz on poor surfaces and missed potholes aren't as traumatic as you expect, those milliseconds before you plough through one and realise it's too late to avoid it are never as bad as you anticipate. It's simply stiff under power and yet amazingly comfortable.
The Imperiale is a real weapon on the descents too. It doesn't turn in too much or want to run wide, it just goes where you point it. If you're going too fast you don't need to feather the brakes and back off, you just crank the bike over more and force it round. It's addictive stuff!
The only time the Wilier really began to disappoint was in windy conditions. It was fine in a headwind but those aero, slab-sided shapes can prove to be a handling nightmare with the wind coming across you, and as well as getting a bit swervey in the gusts (which to be fair is normal for an aero bike), the front end had a habit of feeling unsettlingly light and twitchy too making it extra nervous in blustery conditions.
Kit wise it's a mostly Italian selection as mentioned and you really have to give Wilier credit for going down that road. It's not the best value package for the money by any means but it invokes all the right emotions, and when you're spending this sort of cash that's likely to be factor.
The compact crankset is very bizarre choice though...
The groupset is Campagnolo's Chrous 11 spd group. Performance was crisp and sharp, with the kind of snappy almost agricultural yet confident shifts you would expect from a Campag group. The compact crankset is very bizarre choice though. We were spinning out on even the slightest of downward gradient and we feel a bike with this kind of rapid performance in the climbs really ought to come with a full sized crankset. Value wise Campagnolo record would have nice here though.
The Fulcrum R3 wheelset is bit disappointing too in terms of value but market forces are at play here. Our 2010 spec bike had R1s which still aren't overly generous for the money but the downgrade to R3s for 2011 certainly isn't welcome. Our R1s weren't overly heavy, they were wonderfully stiff and didn't exactly let the bike down - the R3s will be fine but will add grams.
The Italian theme continues with Vittoria tyres and Sella Italia SL saddle with only the Ritchey finishing kit breaking from tradition. The Ritchey bits are all from the Alloy Pro range, carbon would have been nice though.
What really makes it stand out is how comfortable it is and how accessible that performance is...
At £4250 the Wilier Imperiale isn't cheap. And on face value it seems a touch portly and under-specced for the money; you can easily find the same bike, on paper at least, for less. But spend a few miles on it and there's no denying that the sum is very much greater than the parts. There's bags of performance in the Imperiale but what really makes it stand out is how comfortable it is and how accessible that performance is as a result. You can be belting out a massive all dayer in the saddle and at the end you're tired but certainly not fatigued by the bike itself, and you'll probably be setting some long distance personal bests as a result.
As a pure out racer it's probably not focused enough for some tastes but as luxury sportive bike or if you simply want to treat yourself to a very high performance road bike that is accessible, genuinely pleasant and enjoyable to ride - the Imperiale is everything you could want.
Contact: ATB Sales Ltd
Tel: (01424) 753566